Zynga Explains Why Triple-A Developers Fail At Social Games

By James Brightman

Zynga makes success in the social games arena look easy, but crafting huge hits for Facebook isn’t as simple as it appears. And while there have been more triple-A developers and publishers entering the social space, they’ve not all had instant success. Zynga’s chief games designer, Brian Reynolds, explained to IndustryGamers why that’s the case.

He began by noting the huge disparity between the traditional and social spaces at the moment: “I don’t think the traditional space is going to go away. I mean, it has shrunk…it shrunk a little last year, and it shrunk a lot the year before. It’s not going to always even be shrinking, but it’s never going to be growing the way social is growing right now. It’s never going to suddenly have hundreds of millions of players on a game or something like that. Those platforms don’t have that potential. It’s going to continue to be a perfectly fine business, but it’s just not going to become a particularly larger business then it already is. It’ll grow at a modest rate is my take on it. Some of these publishers will figure it out and they’ll get into social and they’ll succeed. Some of them will try and they’ll fail. That’s what we see with any new kind of platform, is their success and failure in adopting the platform and figuring it out.”

As for the problem with traditional developers and publishers attempting to make social games, Reynolds said they’re failing to make a game that’s truly social.  “The important thing with social is to understand that the core of it is social. You can’t just go write… Call of Duty and add Facebook functionality. You’ve got to make a game that’s about socializing, make social the core of what you’re inventing, and then build the game around that. Mostly where I see triple-A people or developers trying to get into social and then failing is where they say, ‘We’re just going to take game X and kind of give it a little bit of Facebook plumbing and that’ll be great. In some ways, they’re missing the point of what social is all about and why it works,” he said.

Reynolds continued, “What I tell new game designers at Zynga to do, particularly the ones that come from the triple-A industry, is I say, ‘Don’t try to make a triple-A game and then try to figure out how to add the social into it. Make a social game and then figure out how to draw on your triple-A experience, to make it better, to make it more fun and more compelling. Those are the people that succeed – the people that come in and really learn social qua social and bring their immense decades of experience to improve it from there.”

Reynolds added that one of the advantages of social games is they’re instantly accessible and easy to get into. There are no huge downloads or wait times during loading screens like in some console titles. Gamers’ expectations have changed.

“In the old days, again, we were talking about the golden hour – you had to catch the player in the golden hour to get them to love it enough and tell their friends and whatever. These days it’s more like the golden 15 seconds,” he commented. “You can actually watch the little waterfall graph of the longer the bar goes for loading, the more people you lose forever for first time players. That’s part of the whole metric driven thing; we learned that stuff.

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